My father once wrote a poem on the day of the invasion of Afghanistan. He had gone to a business lunch in a bar in downtown Austin. The point of the poem was that here we were, invading another sovereign nation, and every television in the place was tuned to sports and sports shows. The war it seemed, would not touch us. It wasn’t meant to touch us. It was meant to be kept at arms-length. It was to be as convenient as possible for us Americans.
I have often thought about that poem. I have often thought about what my father would say about the state of affairs today. My father has not been gone that long. He passed away in the fall of 05. I use that as a reference point for where we are today.
In 2005 it was not known the extent to which your government monitors you. Utilizing the Focaultian panopticon, we are all now on our best behavior. Even our outrage is memed-up and consists of posting a few documentaries or news pieces in social media. The problem there is that no one listens, everyone is too busy crafting their own public narrative, their own public opinion, and displaying their own cleverness. Myself included. The idea that your smart TV, your telephone, your purchases and whereabouts are all tracked and everything you do in real or in digital is stored somewhere in the Utah desert, courtesy of the NSA- how truly appalling.
Worse still is the abuses of small-time authority; your local PD hijacking cellphone tower signals and downloading everyone’s information and GPS whereabouts. Or the license plate readers on every police vehicle which stores the whereabouts of millions of vehicles. All without oversight.
Or the idea that an officer of the law can choke a man to the point of heart failure for a misdemeanor while being filmed and be acquitted. Or the idea that any American could watch that video and feel there was justification. The minds of Americans are the talk shows of the world. No one picks their guests, and they are all fed the script. You, yes you, do not have an original opinion. Not if you are plugged into the world. You are either pro or con, this or that; depending almost solely on who you watch. You are a hollow echo of jingoism and social control. We all are to some extent. We are packaged constituents of polarity. We are demographics divided by ethnicity, locality, age, social status, and education. What appeals to you appeals to you because someone was smart enough to be able to predict what turns you on. You are a heuristic. You respond as they tell you to, and do so thinking you are participating of your own volition. You are a PR man’s bonus, and advertising execs vacation.
The idea that all a public figure has to do is spout venom at an “other”, and we all hop on board. We need that “other” like a drug. It tells us we are somehow different, better, more morally pure. We embrace xenophobia because inside we are just a generation of frightened children, unfulfilled men, and rapacious women. We are exactly what we run from. We see violence and wish for violence. We praise the vigilante. We believe the world is an awful place. We must protect what we see is right and pure and good. But what we protect, is someone else’s status quo. We believe in those forces which have stripped us of our humanity. We believe in what the conglomerates tell us. And why? Because we have allowed the few to provide us with whatever truth they choose to give us. Because we find it easier to be passive and moderately unhappy than to stand up and demand the truth.
In a time where we say racism is extinct, we micro-aggress the highest office in the land. Calling the President the most violently extreme things. Has anyone ever stopped to realize, we didn’t used to talk that way? Or think that way? Or hate the figurines of media iconography with such black passion that we must surely be consumed by it? When did we become like this?
In WWII, Korea, and even Vietnam, there was national identity. Did not even the counter-culture come together to challenge the establishment? Was there not still love and brotherhood through sacrifice. Even when we fought our own government, we did so united under humanistic kinship. In WWII we all made vast and painful sacrifices believing it was for the greater good of the world. In Korea, we saw the first glimmer of of empirical desires dashed. But were we not proud of “our boys over there?” Today, war is a movie of the week, a Youtube clip where you might get lucky and see someone really get fucked up. And isn’t that what we want to see. A “them”, a “those people”, a group of those “sick barbarians” really getting what’s coming to them. Isn’t that what we really want?
Today we barely look up from our cell phones, much less unite for anything that really counts for something. Altruism it seems, is only born from desperation these days. Not only do we not know who our neighbor is, we are highly suspicious of him. Someone out there wants to do us harm. That seems to be all we know for sure. What a way to live.
My father would have been ashamed. Even more so than he was the day the war started. Ashamed of himself, for having let the politics of his time slip by, for having mortgaged his heart and his politics to suburban consumerism and the “making end meet” jail. He would be ashamed of our politicians, as it seems no one gives one, single, fuck, about you, or me, or anyone who makes this world go round. No, you my fellow American have been excised from politics, haven’t you heard? Corporations are the new people. Money is speech. And frankly, you are just a nuisance. How best to drug you and placate you the elite ask. He would be ashamed that we got here willingly. We did not even put up a fight. We wanted the oblivion of the television world and now it is all we have. We are a sitcom with bad jokes and exaggerated emotions. We defy logic.
When Danny Pearl was taken hostage and beheaded the world was aghast that such a thing could happen in this day and age. I watched the video and it made me sick, literally. But these days, it is a back page story. Beheading isn’t sexy anymore. We are numb to it. ISIS it seems, will just have to do better. Something really good this time. C’mon, we want to really really hate someone or something. We want war, and fire, and dead brown people. We do. We want to proclaim that for all the misery and emptiness in our western hearts; that it is THE only way to be. We want to believe that we are some sort of high-water mark in the world. We want to believe what they tell us- that this is as good as it could possibly be… until the next Iphone comes out, or the next reality show, or the next series on Netflixs. We want to believe we are on the crest of some great wave of value and meaning. Only dead people in poor dirty lands can make us feel so superior. We need it.
For all the rhetoric of “personal responsibility” and “freedom to decide” for oneself; the American sure does fold like a deck of cards in the wind. What beliefs do you have that were not fed to you? Ever wonder why you know deep in your heart that you lack the courage of your convictions? Because they are not yours. It is unlikely you could ever behead someone, or walk into an office building and gun down the people there because they offended your beliefs. You are pussies. It is much easier to believe what the TV says. It is much easier to have our military handle all that mess. It is much easier to sympathize with a sniper on the silver screen than to actually do something. If anything, we Americans are the least responsible for our lives. When difficulty arises, we simply tune in to find out who to blame. Ahh, it is “those people” again. We “decide for ourselves” that they must go. We watch their corpses burn on the internet with glee.
We do this at home, and abroad. We do this with our speech, our ideologies, our credit cards, and our money. We buy irresponsibility. We don’t want to know that orange juice is cheap because of our shitty treatment of migrant workers, or that the blood of millions is in every drop of gasoline, in every cheap television, in everything we consume and then throw away. We do not want to know that we have made a mockery of mankind by pillaging those who are less cruel, less violent, less evil. We export our will, and our guilt. We listen to Kenny-G over the speakers in air conditioned and refrigerator mega-consumerist stores, and we hum along and wonder if we should try gluten free or just buy the regular brand. We drive to church, and then out for lunch, and sit around tables with our families and we feel… what? Grateful? Satisfied? Loved? What we should feel is our own hypocrisy. We should stare at it like a freshly killed and still writhing beast right there in dining room. We should listen to the gasps and agonal breathing of all that is good which we have choked out of this world.
But we don’t. We watch football instead, and talk about buying a second home, and how best to retire these days. We talk about “those people” who are the problem; whether they live down the street or across the planet. Clearly “those people” are the problem. Utopia would abound if it were not for “them”.
The one thing my father and I shared was an unflinching desire to look in the mirror. To really look. When I speak of you, I speak of me. I hold no moral high ground here. And while your mind may dismiss this “rant” as “overly negative” and disproportionately “critical”; while your mind will tell you all sorts of things about what I have written, the truth is, deep down, when there are no distractions, no talking heads, no candy crush, no facebook, no fights with your lover or your kids, when all is still and you have only yourself to bear witness to your heart- in those moments you feel it too. You feel the absurdity in which you live. You sense the danger of the insanity of it all. You know you must keep moving or you will be crushed by that knowledge. So back into the fray, the office, the politics, the rat race- off you go. Do not look back.
I will close with a statement of hope. For all the darkness in the world, for all the ignorance, for all the mobbish madness; there is still the singularity. There is still the mind, and the heart. Meaning in your life will be exactly one-part courage, and one part truth. You can be as free as you choose to be, but you must look the ugliness in the face. You must also recognize your own countenance in that beast. You heart will be as free as your willingness to assume a certain culpability. The more truth you accept, the less delusion you will suffer. This is what it means to take responsibility. This is what it means to be free. Or, on the eve of our next war, you too can sit in sublime ignorance, tuned to the spectacle of the American Mirage. Be not afraid, these shadows are merely your own.